Most of us think of film as a visual experience without realizing the impact sound has on this experience, sometimes even contributing more than the visual language offered to a viewer. Sound largely contributes to the emotion and rhythm of the film. It provides a set tone or an emotional dimension towards the story and characters of the film. In some cases, sound also works as a medium of understanding the change in mood in the film or an intuitive change in plot.
The Theory of Sound by Bela Balazs speaks of a similar take on the vast potential of sound towards a film and the numerous possibilities that can be experimented through the medium of sound.
The essay instantly reminded me of the Great Gatsby which for me did a fabulous job in terms of sound and justifying the mood by the background music, yet maintaining a sense of compatible contrast between the visuals and the background tracks. Set in the 1920s the film ironically boasts music of the contemporaries. The Great Gatsby houses everything from jazz, techno-rap, EDM, hip-hop and dubstep along with pieces from Lana Delray and Beyonce altogether which before the release would have been usually interpreted and put into a modern, today’s age context. The film defies the norm and creates magic with the blend of visuals and sound. My most favourite scene being the party scene at Gatsby’s home where Fergie’s “A little party killed no body” runs through the background along with jazz beats of Bang Bang and intermittent conversation all contributing to the one of the most brilliant scenes I have seen almost making all of the glitz and glamour of the world come alive together in those few shots. The sounds in this scene form a sort of space colouring as Balazs explains in his essay where a sound has the ability to shoot an image, setting and a certain palette into our minds. As soon as you hear the tunes of the party scenes you instantly imagine a extravagant, flamboyant and colourful set up. Another one of my favourite scenes from the film is when Gatsby and Daisy reunite at his house and he showers her with all kinds of clothes from the top floor while she basks in the luxuries of his love and riches. During this scene Lana Delray’s “Young and beautiful” plays which instantly puts you in the Daisy’s shoes for those few shots and creates a deep emotional impact of love and intensity. Much like Belazs’ explanation of the ‘Acoustic World’, the pitch and repetition of words in this number make for a strong emotional connection between the viewer of the film and Daisy.
Another movie that instantly struck me as soon as I read the references Belasz makes to typical sounds such as a floorboard creaking in a deserted room or the deathwatch beetle ticking in old furniture, was the Conjuring – a film whose sound effects were enough to snatch my sleep away from me for days after I watched it. The horror film which is said to be based on a true story, changed everyone’s perspective to a regular sound of a clap. We have often experienced the regular thrill when a ghost or vampire jumps into the scene out of nowhere in a regular horror movie but this film provides a much more intensified gasp just by the sound of distant claps. Not only does the film brag its ability to make you shiver just by the sound of its clapping from hell soundtrack but it easily creates the most horrifying and feared moments in the prescense of absolute silence except for a soft humming sound that leaves you scarred for hours after. Conjuring is one of the few films of the ones I have seen that successfully manages to create emotion and emit sound in silence. The film manages to create hollowness in sound and messes with all our previous perceptions and relations that we draw with sound. The Asynchronous sound in the film contributes significantly to the story of the movie and the feeling of terror, isolation and suffocation.
Absolutely contrary in terms of mood, setting and beat to the Conjuring is Jodhaa Akbar, a Bollywood film based on a historic love story between a Rajput princess and a Mughal emperor. This film emanates the feeling of royalty, pride and in some scenes love through its sound using basic elements that make up the tracks and help us generate the feeling of going back in time into an India full of kings, queens, grand palaces and sword fights. This film especially fits into the category of a film that creates visuals by its sounds. If I were to close my eyes and watch the movie, 90 percent of it would still absolutely make sense and create images in my head due to the sound. Simple use of trumpets and loud drumbeats while the entrance of King Akbar automatically characterizes and personifies a character in your head while you hear the high pitched instruments that are usually associated with royalty or pride. The scene of the sword fight between Jodhaa and Akbar specifically is one of the scenes that can be effortlessly understood and visualized just by the sound effects during the fight. As Bela Balazs’ essay points out that in several instances sounds explains the pictures, Jodhaa Akbar is a good example of the film that does and lives up to the accuracy in sound expected by a film depicting the lives of the emperors and princesses of India during the Mughal period. Yet the film does not lose out on the implication of love through sound either, popular tracks such as “In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein” or “Jashna Bahaara” hold significance in creating the romantic mood of the film while “Khwaja mere Khwaja” and “Mann Mohana” are tracks that distinctly represent the Islam-Hindu aspect of the story.
Bela Balazs rightly says that sound has a major part to reveal the film and its feeling to its audience and is almost and in some cases more significant than its visual language. Sound has the ability to do wonders of all kinds, some of which I noticed in the films above that definitely prove the power of sound.